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10 vegetarian ingredients to help you cook meat-free any day of the week

by Malou Herkes

published on 22 January 2020

Are you looking to cut down on your meat intake? Are you seeking clever new ways to embrace more veg in your everyday diet? We've rounded up 10 staple vegetarian ingredients that will help you do just that. Stock up your storecupboards and cook up delicious, feel-good meals that are not only packed with flavour but are satisfying and versatile too.

Beans: chickpeas, black beans and lentils

Beans and pulses, such as chickpeas, black beans and lentils are packed with protein and can bulk out a meal-free meal fantastically. Chickpeas have a wonderful nutty flavour, can be blitzed into houmous, thrown into salads or added to traybakes, such as Elly Pear's super-easy Aubergine, Tomato and Chickpea Traybake (pictured). Try lentils in Ottolenghi's Puy Lentil & Aubergine Stew from his revolutionary Simple cookbook. 

From the book

best vegetarian ingredients squash satay salad lunchbox salads

Grains: bulgur wheat, quinoa and rice

Stock up your storecupboard with a variety of grains, such as bulgur wheat, quinoa or wild rice. Grains are protein- and nutrient-rich and will form the bulk of hearty salads which are easy to transport to work – like this Braised Cauliflower & Bulgur Wheat Tabbouleh or this Crunchy Squash Satay Salad with quinoa (pictured) from the Lunchbox Salads cookbook. Throw any leftover cooked grains into a pan for a variation on Chinese fried rice, like Melissa Hemsley's Fried Quinoa with Spicy Garlic Sesame Oil

best vegetarian ingredients ottolenghi shakshuka


Packed with protein, eggs are veggie fast food. Fried and served on spiced rice, boiled and sliced onto Jamie's flatbreads with mango chutney and chilli, whipped into Melissa Hemsley's Fridge-Raid Frittata with whatever veg you've got in the fridge, or cracked into Ottolenghi's one-pan shakshuka with tomatoes and peppers, eggs are your saviour any day of the week.

best vegetarian ingredients tofu kebabs with sweet chilli sauce heather thomas


It probably comes as no surprise to see tofu on this list but if you think it's a bland ingredient, think again! With a little know how, tofu is extremely verstaile, a great meat alternative and a brilliant carrier of flavour. Try marinating tofu in soy sauce, honey and garlic for these Tofu Kebabs with Sweet Chilli Sauce (pictured). You can add tofu to soups and curries, or cook it down into a meat-free tofu ragu with jarred red peppers, tomato and paprika. You can even use tofu in sweet dishes, to add silkiness and bulk, like in this Vegan Baked Cheesecake. Find out more with our guide to cooking tofu

best vegetarian ingredients aubergine salad the aubergine cookbook


When cooked well, aubergine adds wonderful silky texture and substance to a veg-centric meal. Roast aubergine and toss it through this salad with squash and feta, or sub it into wintery traybakes, such as an Aubergine and Mozzarella Parmigiana or a filling Moussaka. For more inspo, check out The Aubergine Cookbook by Heather Thomas.

best vegetarian ingredients peanut butter meera sodha pad thai east

Peanut butter

Peanut butter (or any nut butter for that matter) doesn't just work well on toast. It can add quick nuttiness and flavour to noodles, stews and sauces. Try Meera Sodha's genius vegan interpretation of Pad Thai (pictured) or Jamie Oliver's Stuffed Curried Aubergines with Spiced Tamarind and Peanut Sauce.

We also love this Butternut, Sage & Cashew Pasta recipe, made extra creamy with homemade cashew butter (it's so easy!) from Amelia Freer's new Simply Good For You.


best vegetarian ingredients ruby tandoh feta carrot bites


You can add just about anything to natural yoghurt to make it into a refreshing condiment or dip that you can serve alongside falafel and veg fritters, veggie chillies and curries. Stir through harissa or chilli sauce or zing it up with lime juice, like Ruby Tandoh does in this Carrot & Feta Bites recipe. Blitz yoghurt with cooked beetroot for a vibrant dip or stir through chopped fresh herbs. Or do as Ottolenghi does and serve fridge-cold yoghurt with hot-charred garlicky tomatoes – divine!

best vegetarian ingredients Cauliflower Korma with Blackened Rasins meera sodha


Can cauliflower do no wrong? Not in our book. In recent years, this humble veg has become the poster child of the vegetarian movement, and a popular substitute for rice, pizza dough and even steak. We recommend this Cauliflower Korma with Blackened Rasins from Meera Sodha's best-selling Fresh IndiaYou can even blitz it into a wonderous cauliflower pesto and toss it through pasta (thanks Smitten Kitchen!). 

vegetarian ingredients moussaka with tahini tony kitous


A trusty storecupoard staple, tahini is a sesame paste that will add depth of flavour and creaminess to dressings, houmous, dips and spreads. Whisk up a dollop of tahini with olive oil, maple syrup and Dijon mustard, then drizzle over Rachel Ama's hearty Roasted Beets & Squash Salad. Or try whisking tahini with yoghurt and serving on top of Tony Kitous' hearty Aubergine Moussaka (pictured). And if all else fails, make cookies.

best vegetarian ingredients jackfruit vegan juna pasta rachel ama


You might have heard of 'pulled' jackfruit in recent years thanks to its remarkable ability to take on the flavours its cooked with and pull apart like pork. Here Rachel Ama uses jackfruit to replace tuna in her delicious, ocean-friendly Vegan Juna Pasta


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